Published Jan 27, 2021In case you tuned out sometime around 2005's Make Believe, let's get you up to speed. Weezer have quietly and steadily become one of the most interesting bands in modern rock, amassing an unpredictable catalogue full of wild misfires (2017's Pacific Daydream), striking returns to form (2016's White Album) and divisive pop experiments (2019's Black Album). Unlike almost any other band 15 albums into their career, it still feels like Weezer are capable of making either a masterpiece or a complete stinker — mostly depending on whatever mood frontman Rivers Cuomo happens to be in on a given day.
So here we are with OK Human, an album that once again rewrites the Weezer playbook, this time by abandoning electric guitars in favour of an all-acoustic setup, analogue recording gear and a 38-piece orchestra.
Ignoring the fact that a pandemic is the worst time imaginable to record with a 38-piece orchestra, OK Human is one of the best instalments in the band's post-millennium catalogue, channeling the soaring hooks of their early days with the stream-of-consciousness lyrical weirdness of more recent albums, and then slathering the whole thing in lavish strings.
The songs are accentuated by orchestrations, but not defined by them. Lead single and opening track "All My Favourite Songs" features a bubbly hook and some of Cuomo's most straightforward lyrics in years, as he sings, "I love parties, but I don't go / Then I feel bad when I stay home / 'Cause I need a friend when I take a walk / I like spacing out when somebody talks."
Without the roar of electric guitars or the gloss of digital recording equipment, each quaver in Cuomo's voice is exposed. He sells the hell out of every single lyric, from the poignant professions of love on the Old Hollywood-tinged "Mirror Image" to the giddy promises of self-improvement on "Here Comes the Rain." There's even a song about loving audiobooks, as "Grapes of Wrath" features an bizarre bit of product placement in its chorus: "I'm gonna rock my Audible headphone Grapes of Wrath." It's a natural extension for a geek rock band whose breakthrough single featured the word "homies" and then only got dorkier from there.
Not every song is a winner. In particular, "Play My Piano" is a little too on the nose with its descriptions of, you guessed it, playing the piano; of all the gleefully clumsy lyrics on OK Human, that song's "Kim Jong-un could blow up my city, I'd never know" is a rare one that truly clunks. "La Brea Tar Pits" is the only moment when Weezer get undermined by the orchestra, as the song is swallowed up by syrupy orchestrations better suited to a Pixar film than a power pop album.
But, with 12 tracks and a runtime of barely more than half an hour, any flaws are minor and the album breezes by. The arrangements may be ambitious, but there's very little pomp or grandeur here; this is just another low-stakes success in a long and varied career. And with the metal-inspired Van Weezer still due to come out in May, the experiments are going to keep on coming; the next one might suck or it might be amazing, and that's all part of the fun. (Atlantic)